Two district court judges ruled Friday that 13 of the 22 women suing Deshaun Watson for sexual misconduct in civil court in Harris County, Texas, must attach their names to their lawsuits. Later that day, a 14th woman agreed to use her name in court. Prior to the ruling, just two of the 22 women, Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, had gone public with their names.
Following the hearings, Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the 22 women, released a statement saying many of his plaintiffs already had intended to come forward with their names. During one of the hearings, Buzbee said nine women had agreed to use their names, but in his statement he didn’t specify exactly how many of the 22.
“I had previously explained to Watson’s team that most of the women in this case had already given me permission to release their names to Mr. Hardin, and that I had intended to do so in due course,” Buzbee said in a statement. “Indeed, after they watched Ashley Solis provide her compelling and truthful statement, these brave women felt emboldened and strong enough to take this important step. They are ready to be identified.” Buzbee ended his statement noting that “identifying the women at this point adds even more credibility to the allegations being made.”
Buzbee also filed two documents with the court on Friday showing the harassment that Solis had faced after she went public with her name just days ago, on Tuesday. One exhibit showed what looked like two messages sent anonymously through her business website and two Instagram messages sent to Solis from users she does not follow. The messages included death threats and rape threats.
The other document showed what looked like an Instagram message sent from a woman with a similar username as Solis asking Solis for help.
“Is there any way your lawyer or someone could post my Instagram and tell them to leave me alone?” the woman wrote. “Fans have been threatening me and thinking I’m you. It’s scary for me because I’m scared someone’s gonna try to hurt me somehow.”
At Buzbee’s press conference on Tuesday, Solis addressed the fear she felt in coming forward after reading about the cases and seeing comments online from fans of Watson. “I know a lot of you were probably wondering who I was or if I even existed,” she said. “I am not afraid anymore … I am deeply saddened but not surprised to see so many victim blaming in the press or online commenters. They have no idea what happened to me. No idea.”
Friday’s hearings mean that 14 of the 22 lawsuits will be re-filed with the plaintiff’s names attached. As Houston lawyer Steph Stradley points out in a comprehensive piece, this is standard practice when it comes to civil lawsuits in Texas, where the only provision for keeping a plaintiff anonymous involves sexual abuse of minor. That’s why Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, filed an emergency motion to get the names. At a press conference on Friday, Hardin added that would not have agreed to a confidentially sharing of the names of the women between his lawyers and the defense.
At Hardin’s Friday press conference, held at a Houston hotel, Hardin said he has not attacked the 22 plaintiffs and he encouraged the public to leave them alone as their names are made public. But Hardin himself has already attacked the women, before any of them attached their names to their lawsuits. It was Hardin’s legal team who sent out a list of 18 women who said they would vouch for Watson’s behavior during massages and, in those statements, the women specifically voiced mistrust towards the 22 plaintiffs, creating a dangerous fallacy: Watson couldn’t have abused you because he didn’t abuse me.
Myah Roberson: “Some of these accusations are so ludicrous. I just can’t see him doing any of those things.”
Sarah Fetherolf: “My experience was nothing like the plaintiffs are describing. I don’t believe they are being truthful.”
Raechal Martin: “He has been one of the easiest clients I have ever had. That’s what makes these accusations against him so infuriating.”
In his press conference, Hardin said he thought about having Watson attend, but ultimately decided not to because he wasn’t going to allow the Texans quarterback to take any questions. Hardin began by emphasizing his respect for the media, explained that “millennials live on Instagram,” and said that his client receives around 150 massages per year. He also noted that that all of the lawsuits describe events that happened during the pandemic, which shut down massage therapy business (Per the Texas governor’s executive orders, massage businesses in the Houston area were ordered to close from March 20 to May 18, unless they were providing services determined to be medically necessary by a physician or chiropractor.)
Hardin made sure to say several times that he works with a lot of women and that his law firm is majority women. He then had four attorneys, all women, give their opinions on the lawsuits, all of whom urged the public to reserve judgment. At the start of his press conference, Hardin introduced the women.
“I’m obviously surrounded by four women and I wanted to make sure you didn’t think we hired women to be part of this case because of the type of it,” he said. “Our firm now is majority women. Our partnerships were half women. These independent people make their own judgments.”
The women then proceeded to do what defense lawyers are paid to do. They defended their client. Lawyer Letitia Quinones said that Watson’s “credit history” of working hard to build his career, without any previous record of misconduct, “should count for something.” She later added: “This young man who has done everything right, who grew up in a neighborhood where he would otherwise have every reason to fall short of glory—nothing, not a speck on his record.” Attorney Leah Graham went into great detail about how Watson “doesn’t have an entourage, he doesn’t have a staff. He books and schedules his own dentist,” clearly implying a man who books his own dentist cannot commit sexual assault.
Quinones, who said she is a survivor, also subtly ripped Buzbee as well as plaintiff’s lawyers. “When I think back over what happened to me, I would not—the first person I come in contact with to get justice wouldn’t be a plaintiff’s lawyer. That’s something we need to think about.”
Hardin took questions from the reporters and said he had not been in touch with Houston police or the NFL. One reporter asked if Deshaun booked a legit massage and then engaged in consensual sex acts with some of these women. Hardin answered: “You can get that from what I’m saying. In some of these massages, there is no question, our first announcement has always been about consent. On some occasions, some sexual activity may have taken place. You can rightfully assume that. But never at any time, did this young man ever engage in anything that was not mutually desired by the other party.”
The press conference closed with Hardin talking about the importance of knowing the names of the women who filed their lawsuits, saying “and I would hope, the only way these accusations or these allegations can be looked at as thoroughly as y’all have looked at us is for you to know who the accuser is. Just like us.” But the women aren’t just like Watson. They don’t have millions of dollars or phalanxes of fans ready to defend them. Hardin, because that’s his job, left that part out of his press conference.